In this article Luiz Bicalho analyses the political implications of the Pope's resignation. Benedict XVI was not detached from today’s world. On the contrary he pursued throughout his pontificate a reactionary agenda aimed at preparing the Catholic Church for the crucial task – from the point of view of the ruling classes – of containing and fighting against a revolutionary outcome of the present crisis of world capitalism. Most interestingly Benedict identified the need for the Church to counter Marxism as the most developed revolutionary doctrine.
Benedict XVI is the first pope to resign in 600 years. He is just the fifth pope in the long history of the Catholic Church to take this step. It is therefore an important historical event, deserving of the attention of Marxists.
The policy of Benedict XVI
One of the accusations that has been thrown against the resigning pope is that he was “detached from reality today.” I would like to defend the Pope against this accusation – we are in reality in the presence of an ideological fighter, even if we disagree with his ideas. He did not resign under pressure from “today's reality”, or as the Pope himself pointed out, from media pressure and the values that the bourgeoisie considers necessary to emphasize today. Benedict – it is true – is detached from the “media” and the “agenda” that they push, but he has a deep knowledge of the current reality. He thought the present church could provide him with a means for fighting to change it. This was his sin. He was mistaken, and we aim to indicate the reasons for this mistake, which ultimately led him to resign.
Benedict XVI marked his pontificate with three encyclicals1. With the first, God Caritas Est (God is love), he explains his policy:
“In a world where the name of God is sometimes associated with vengeance or even a duty of hatred and violence, this message is both timely and significant.”
The encyclical was written in 2005 and it represents a concrete response to the political situation at that time, in which the Pope “polemicised” against Bush's policy vis a vis the Ayatollahs of Iran, with both contending parties claiming to speak on behalf of God. From this we can already see that the Pope really understood the contemporary world and wanted to present himself as an alternative, furthering a prospect of unification against the war policies. But was or is this policy viable in the present world?
Benedict understood the current world very well, a world where prostitution has become a large field of economic activity, and he responded to it in a very concrete way, explaining that the Church is not opposed to love between man and woman, but its degradation and sale:
“Yet the contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive. Eros, reduced to pure 'sex', has become a commodity, a mere 'thing' to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man's great 'yes' to the body. On the contrary, he now considers his body and his sexuality as the purely material part of himself, to be used and exploited at will.”
And if Benedict is well aware of the sale of the body, he is even more aware of the material differences that corrode the world today:
“The element of 'communion' (koinonia) is not initially defined, but appears concretely in the verses quoted above: it consists in the fact that believers hold all things in common and that among them, there is no longer any distinction between rich and poor (cf. also Acts 4:32-37). As the Church grew, this radical form of material communion could not in fact be preserved.”
Moreover, Benedict is well aware from whence these problems arise:
“Historically, the issue of the just ordering of the collectivity had taken a new dimension with the industrialization of society in the nineteenth century. The rise of modern industry caused the old social structures to collapse, while the growth of a class of salaried workers provoked radical changes in the fabric of society. The relationship between capital and labour now became the decisive issue — an issue which in that form was previously unknown. Capital and the means of production were now the new source of power which, concentrated in the hands of a few, led to the suppression of the rights of the working classes, against which they had to rebel.”
And, yes, Benedict also takes stock of the meaning of the 1917 Russian Revolution and, synthetically, the significance of the fall of the USSR (which as we have explained was due to Stalinism2):
“Marxism had seen world revolution and its preliminaries as the panacea for the social problem: revolution and the subsequent collectivization of the means of production, so it was claimed, would immediately change things for the better. This illusion has vanished. In today's complex situation, not least because of the growth of a globalised economy, the Church's social doctrine has become a set of fundamental guidelines offering approaches that are valid even beyond the confines of the Church: in the face of ongoing development these guidelines need to be addressed in the context of dialogue with all those seriously concerned for humanity and for the world in which we live.”
Unlike what his critics suggest, Benedict has a very clear vision of the contemporary world. “This illusion has vanished.” He draws a balance sheet of the workers' social struggle, and advises the capitalists to stop worrying about it happening again, but to make sure that the causes which led to revolution do not happen again. But the problem for Benedict lies in two facts:
a) Contrary to what Benedict thinks, revolution is back on the agenda, and revolutions in the Arab countries, general strikes in Greece, Italy, and Spain, workers' revolts in some U.S. cities are proof of that. Misery resulting from the 2008 crisis furthers revolution more than any Marxist propaganda. What distinguishes Marxist revolutionaries in this situation is to have a clear understanding of the situation and a perspective to solve the problem, i.e. social revolution.
b) Contrary to what Benedict preaches, the bourgeoisie did not accept the proposal of church's social doctrine as envisioned by Benedict. Furthermore, the Church itself, which could play this role through charity and love, seems more interested in solving its own problem of how to maintain itself as a privileged caste with its perks and privileges. Just like John Paul I, however differently, Benedict was unable to implement his policy and is forced to resign.
Benedict and his social criticism, a harsh man with his fellows
Benedict did not come to appease. Even if he never did come to the exaggeration of raising the example of Christ whipping the merchants out of the Temple, a story often used by the Christian left, Benedict nevertheless criticized in his first encyclical the use made of the State. Having previously criticized and asserted that the “dream is over” for revolutionaries, Benedict can get to the point that touches most people, when they see their “politicians” increasingly involved in scandals of corruption and moral degradation which surface in times of crisis. He also understood the need for “survival” or, as in the case of these doormats of the bourgeoisie, how to better reap the crumbs that fall from the bourgeois banquet:
“The just ordering of society and the State is a central responsibility of politics. As Augustine once said, a State which is not governed according to justice would be just a bunch of thieves: ‘Remota itaque iustitia quid sunt regna nisi magna latrocinia?’.”
“With justice withdrawn, what are kingdoms but great bands of thieves?” Benedict goes further, explaining that the church has a task, a task to imbue society with God's love, justice and understanding, and the erection of a just social order. But how to reconcile this with the problem of separation of church and state, how to reconcile this with capitalism? We shall return to this later, but in this first encyclical, Benedict gives a classic answer, while at the same time being hard on his own followers, to the extent that he demands from them, and in particular from priests and bishops, a political attitude very different from that followed by them today, as they are more concerned with their own problems:
“Building a just social and civil order, wherein each person receives what is his or her due, is an essential task which every generation must take up anew. As a political task, this cannot be the Church's immediate responsibility. Yet, since it is also a most important human responsibility, the Church is duty-bound to offer, through the purification of reason and through ethical formation, her own specific contribution towards understanding the requirements of justice and achieving them politically.”
“The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society, on the other hand, is proper to the lay faithful. As citizens of the State, they are called to take part in public life in a personal capacity. So they cannot relinquish their participation 'in the many different economic, social, legislative, administrative and cultural areas, which are intended to promote organically and institutionally the common good.' The mission of the lay faithful is therefore to configure social life correctly, respecting its legitimate autonomy and cooperating with other citizens according to their respective competences and fulfilling their own responsibility. Even if the specific expressions of ecclesial charity can never be confused with the activity of the State, it still remains true that charity must animate the entire lives of the lay faithful and therefore also their political activity, lived as 'social charity'.”
“Wherein each person receives what is his or her due”. Benedict does not explain how to know what is each one's due. But Benedict had already explained clearly that at least it is the right to a dignified life. And this, we repeat again, capitalism cannot guarantee. Thus, Benedict instructed the church to orient in this direction, to humanize capitalism and not to simply adapt to it. But we have to be careful here, “humanize” at present, does not mean to reform capitalism, but in the concrete situation of misery caused by the destruction of social rights – welfare and health, especially – it implies a church that practices and organizes charity as a means to avoid extreme poverty.
Of course, to the ears of all paedophiles given cover by the church, the “ethical training” advocated by Benedict began to sound a little uncomfortable. With double energy, Benedict began a war he was not able to win, but he nonetheless threw himself into the task, and seven years later, defeated, he is forced to resign. The Church was not going to fight until the end for ethics – one of the electors of the new Pope, Roger Mahony, Cardinal and former Archbishop of Los Angeles (USA), had the nerve to say he did not know that paedophilia was a crime – and much less would it pursue the combat to humanize capitalism. After all, we must remember at all times that the Catholic Church owns several banks – and through them, directs or participates in huge industries, owns a huge amount of real estate land in major cities around the world, and is one of the largest owners, if not the biggest, of cultivated lands.
But to return to Benedict's thoughts on the world. He is aware – having said: “This illusion has vanished” – that the situation is not so simple, and he is advocating charity organizations and community-based charities as a means to counter Marxism. But here, prisoner of his own prejudices, Benedict fights against the caricature of Marxism and not Marxism itself:
“The modern age, particularly from the nineteenth century on, has been dominated by various versions of a philosophy of progress whose most radical form is Marxism. Part of Marxist strategy is the theory of impoverishment: in a situation of unjust power, it is claimed, anyone who engages in charitable initiatives is actually serving that unjust system, making it appear at least to some extent tolerable. This in turn slows down a potential revolution and thus blocks the struggle for a better world. Seen in this way, charity is rejected and attacked as a means of preserving the status quo. What we have here, though, is really an inhuman philosophy.”
Benedict cannot – or will not – see that what leads to impoverishment is capitalism itself, and that the charitable initiatives, however much they may mitigate some social problems, have their limits especially when, as today, capitalism has reached its cruellest stage. Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto already explained that capitalist society tends to the proletarianisation of the majority. The example of the US over the last 30 years, in which the share of income for employees decreased while at the same time that of the rich increased, shows that. The situation in Greece, where hospitals run out of medicines and the stock can not be replenished because Greece's ability to pay is questioned by the pharmaceutical corporations, is another example. How can charity solve this problem? By paying off the debt of Greece?
On the other hand, the example of the Marxists in Pakistan – who, faced with the chaos generated by the earthquake in Kashmir, when lay society was also up against the competition of the aid provided by the Islamists – shows very well what we as Marxists can and should do in case of social and humanitarian emergency.3
3. Benedict and revolution
We move two years later and examine the second and probably the most philosophical of Benedict's encyclicals, Spe Salvi (Hope saves). There, Benedict directly develops his critique of Marxism. We recognize – it was written in 2007 on the eve of the 2008 crisis – that Benedict was at the time much more aware of the political situation than many other writers, analysts and journalists. And he clearly identified what to fight against. His problem, then and now, was that instead of a church on a war footing, like that envisaged by Ignatius of Loyola, he had in his hands a church seeped in the quest for profit and “fashion”, where his bishops and cardinals cared more about their earthly affairs than their actual duty of combatting for the kingdom of heaven. Thus, in these two years Benedict found himself alone, losing much of the support that was given to him upon his election. The creature, the pope, had turned against his own creator, the bureaucracy of the Vatican, where Pope Benedict himself grew up and graduated. He was criticizing the revolution and trying to present an alternative to it. But if the revolution on the one hand seems to find its way, the church as an instrument to combat it, on the other hand, seems not to be of much use. Notwithstanding, Benedict in 2007 continued his struggle and wrote the following (please excuse our long quote, but it is interesting because it contains a summary of his criticisms of Marxism):
“20. The nineteenth century held fast to its faith in progress as the new form of human hope, and it continued to consider reason and freedom as the guiding stars to be followed along the path of hope. Nevertheless, the increasingly rapid advance of technical development and the industrialization connected with it soon gave rise to an entirely new social situation: there emerged a class of industrial workers and the so-called 'industrial proletariat', whose dreadful living conditions Friedrich Engels described alarmingly in 1845. For his readers, the conclusion is clear: this cannot continue; a change is necessary. Yet the change would shake up and overturn the entire structure of bourgeois society. After the bourgeois revolution of 1789, the time had come for a new, proletarian revolution: progress could not simply continue in small, linear steps. A revolutionary leap was needed. Karl Marx took up the rallying call, and applied his incisive language and intellect to the task of launching this major new and, as he thought, definitive step in history towards salvation—towards what Kant had described as the 'Kingdom of God'. Once the truth of the hereafter had been rejected, it would then be a question of establishing the truth of the here and now. The critique of Heaven is transformed into the critique of earth, the critique of theology into the critique of politics. Progress towards the better, towards the definitively good world, no longer comes simply from science but from politics—from a scientifically conceived politics that recognizes the structure of history and society and thus points out the road towards revolution, towards all-encompassing change. With great precision, albeit with a certain onesided bias, Marx described the situation of his time, and with great analytical skill he spelled out the paths leading to revolution—and not only theoretically: by means of the Communist Party that came into being from the Communist Manifesto of 1848, he set it in motion. His promise, owing to the acuteness of his analysis and his clear indication of the means for radical change, was and still remains an endless source of fascination. Real revolution followed, in the most radical way in Russia.
“21. Together with the victory of the revolution, though, Marx's fundamental error also became evident. He showed precisely how to overthrow the existing order, but he did not say how matters should proceed thereafter. He simply presumed that with the expropriation of the ruling class, with the fall of political power and the socialization of means of production, the new Jerusalem would be realized. Then, indeed, all contradictions would be resolved, man and the world would finally sort themselves out. Then everything would be able to proceed by itself along the right path, because everything would belong to everyone and all would desire the best for one another. Thus, having accomplished the revolution, Lenin must have realized that the writings of the master gave no indication as to how to proceed. True, Marx had spoken of the interim phase of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a necessity which in time would automatically become redundant. This 'intermediate phase' we know all too well, and we also know how it then developed, not ushering in a perfect world, but leaving behind a trail of appalling destruction. Marx not only omitted to work out how this new world would be organized—which should, of course, have been unnecessary. His silence on this matter follows logically from his chosen approach. His error lay deeper. He forgot that man always remains man. He forgot man and he forgot man's freedom. He forgot that freedom always remains also freedom for evil. He thought that once the economy had been put right, everything would automatically be put right. His real error is materialism: man, in fact, is not merely the product of economic conditions, and it is not possible to redeem him purely from the outside by creating a favourable economic environment.”
Benedict explains clearly that the promise of Marx (and not only the promise, but its realization in a communist party that fights for the revolution) had been and still is appealing. And what is his criticism? That once economic needs are satisfied, evil still existed and that was the mistake of the Russian revolution. According to Benedict, Marx (and Lenin) seem to have forgotten that “human beings” in their entirety, are not materialistic but idealistic, and that economic conditions cannot cure the evil of man.
We point out that Marx did not foresee everything and did not pretend to. More than once he makes it clear that his analyses are based on concrete conditions, he is not a prophet4, but a man who transformed history and economics into sciences in order to advance society, and not to “cure it” or to “cure” the “evil” of man.
What went wrong? Trotsky analysed this in two books, the Permanent Revolution and Revolution Betrayed. In them, he explained that the revolution can only be fully successful if extended to the whole world, if the working class expropriates the productive forces in the advanced countries, and democratically controls world production and the world market. Without this, the pressure of the counterrevolution, the pressure of the bourgeoisie will lead to an untenable situation. And again, pointing out that man is a product of his environment, Trotsky does not “demonise” Stalin, but reduces him precisely to what Stalin truly was: an agent, at first unconscious, of the bourgeoisie itself for the destruction of the revolution. His policy, regardless of his intentions, led to the death of millions, not to save the revolution against the bourgeoisie, but rather, to prevent the revolution from advancing, and to consolidate the bureaucracy and its concrete gains. This is the root cause that led to the destruction of the USSR. The pressure of the bourgeoisie fractured the old Bolshevik (Communist) Party, creating a bureaucratic faction which step by step was transfigured as the direct agent of this bourgeoisie within the USSR.
This did not happen overnight. From 1924 (Lenin's death) until 1933 the steps were many, with advances and setbacks for the bureaucracy. From a wrong theory (socialism in one country) to specific errors that sunk revolutions and strikes (the 1927 Chinese Revolution, the General Strike in Britain), to eventually becoming an agent of imperialism (supporting Hitler against the Social Democracy, executing revolutionaries during the Spanish revolution, executing hundreds of thousands of communists in the USSR, etc.). Small changes eventually led to a profound change.
Yes, the economy, in spite of what Benedict thinks and preaches, was the determinant factor. Isolated from the world market, the USSR could not compete with capitalism which dominated the world. And it was eventually crushed. The collapse of the bureaucratic system, combined with the absence of a revolutionary party in the USSR led to the counter-revolution and to the current situation – sudden collapse of living standards, growth of gangster capitalism, etc. Yes, and this has nothing to do with the wickedness of men, or with their kindness, but it is the concrete result of the social conditions brought about by the collapse of the workers' state and the restoration of capitalism, with all that it entails: unbridled pursuit of profit.
Benedict offered a way out, but the problem is that he did not have at his disposal a church that was capable of fighting for this. On the contrary, the church had only a bureaucracy lavishing for luxury, intent on preserving their sources of income, their investments, their properties, the grandeur and the impunity that it follows. Butting heads with the bureaucracy, surrounded by which he pontificated, Benedict was progressively isolated and decided to resign.
“If technical progress is not matched by corresponding progress in man's ethical formation, in man's inner growth (cf. Eph 3:16; 2 Cor 4:16), then it is not progress at all, but a threat for man and for the world.”
Benedict's words do not match the current world. After all, the evils of capitalism are arising from the relentless pursuit of profit, not a “lack of ethics”, precisely because the ethics of capitalism places profit above all. However, a lack of ethics corrodes and corrupts the church, which in Benedict's view should be the ethical component of capitalism, its moral backbone, with charity to provide the lubricant that allows this vile and vicious machine to function. But the present church cannot provide even this.
A suffering man
The last major effort by Benedict is offered in his third and final encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), written in 2009. Benedict did not write again in 2011, leaving a vacuum, and in 2013 he resigned. What happened? Retrospectively, we can remember that 2009 was the year after the beginning of the crisis, and the hope about which Benedict was speaking did not exactly correspond with the general mood of mankind. Instead, hopelessness was setting the tone. But Benedict tried again to impose his vision on the church, at a time when the mistakes became even bigger. After all, how to transform this bureaucracy into something useful in the present conditions?
Benedict, in his encyclical, again takes on the social role of the church (charity, let's not forget, not social reform) and his disagreement with the current state of affairs:
“Without truth, without trust and love for what is true, there is no social conscience and responsibility, and social action ends up serving private interests and the logic of power, resulting in social fragmentation, especially in a globalised society at difficult times like the present.”
Yes, Benedict is well aware of the crisis and its results and calls for charity and truth, so that everything does not dissolve into “serving private interests and the logic of power.” These words are directed first of all to the bishops and cardinals. They take note attentively, but continue pursuing their private interests.
Benedict, in spite of what his critics say, demonstrated that he was very aware of the problems of the world today. Ignoring the discussions said to be most relevant in today's world – legalization of marijuana, homosexuality, gender and race quotas – Benedict goes straight to the point:
“The world's wealth is growing in absolute terms, but inequalities are on the increase. In rich countries, new sectors of society are succumbing to poverty and new forms of poverty are emerging. In poorer areas some groups enjoy a sort of 'superdevelopment' of a wasteful and consumerist kind which forms an unacceptable contrast with the ongoing situations of dehumanizing deprivation. 'The scandal of glaring inequalities' continues. Corruption and illegality are unfortunately evident in the conduct of the economic and political class in rich countries, both old and new, as well as in poor ones. Among those who sometimes fail to respect the human rights of workers are large multinational companies as well as local producers. International aid has often been diverted from its proper ends, through irresponsible actions both within the chain of donors and within that of the beneficiaries. Similarly, in the context of immaterial or cultural causes of development and underdevelopment, we find these same patterns of responsibility reproduced. On the part of rich countries there is excessive zeal for protecting knowledge through an unduly rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property, especially in the field of health care. At the same time, in some poor countries, cultural models and social norms of behaviour persist which hinder the process of development.”
Yes, Benedict clearly is aware of the problem that afflicts the majority of the people and would speak directly to them, if he were allowed. After all, by saying what he said, he is primarily addressing his words to the Church itself and what it is doing. To what extent is the Church involved in corruption? How much it is involved in the diversion of aid? How much it is engaged through its banks and companies in being part of the problems that Benedict points out? To what lengths is the Vatican bureaucracy going in protecting its interests, instead of practicing charity and truth? Yes, the complaint is true, but Benedict is attached to the church and its bureaucracy, he cannot come out of it so he falls silent after 2009. And the church continues as usual with its businesses and nothing is done to solve the problems. Benedict? He resigns.
Was Benedict a revolutionary? He never was and never will be. But he sees further. Not only further than the bureaucracy of the church, but also further than the trade union bureaucracy that corrupts from within the unions, not to mention these so-called “analysts”, “economists” and other “ists” on duty. Forgive the long quote which follows, but we share with Benedict much of his analysis in this excerpt:
“24. The world that Paul VI had before him — even though society had already evolved to such an extent that he could speak of social issues in global terms — was still far less integrated than today's world. Economic activity and the political process were both largely conducted within the same geographical area, and could therefore feed off one another. Production took place predominantly within national boundaries, and financial investments had somewhat limited circulation outside the country, so that the politics of many States could still determine the priorities of the economy and to some degree govern its performance using the instruments at their disposal. Hence Populorum Progressio assigned a central, albeit not exclusive, role to 'public authorities'.”
“In our own day, the State finds itself having to address the limitations to its sovereignty imposed by the new context of international trade and finance, which is characterized by increasing mobility both of financial capital and means of production, material and immaterial. This new context has altered the political power of States.
“Today, as we take to heart the lessons of the current economic crisis, which sees the State's public authorities directly involved in correcting errors and malfunctions, it seems more realistic to re-evaluate their role and their powers, which need to be prudently reviewed and remodelled so as to enable them, perhaps through new forms of engagement, to address the challenges of today's world. Once the role of public authorities has been more clearly defined, one could foresee an increase in the new forms of political participation, nationally and internationally, that have come about through the activity of organizations operating in civil society; in this way it is to be hoped that the citizens' interest and participation in the res publica will become more deeply rooted.
25. From the social point of view, systems of protection and welfare, already present in many countries in Paul VI's day, are finding it hard and could find it even harder in the future to pursue their goals of true social justice in today's profoundly changed environment. The global market has stimulated first and foremost, on the part of rich countries, a search for areas in which to outsource production at low cost with a view to reducing the prices of many goods, increasing purchasing power and thus accelerating the rate of development in terms of greater availability of consumer goods for the domestic market. Consequently, the market has prompted new forms of competition between States as they seek to attract foreign businesses to set up production centres, by means of a variety of instruments, including favourable fiscal regimes and deregulation of the labour market. These processes have led to a downsizing of social security systems as the price to be paid for seeking greater competitive advantage in the global market, with consequent grave danger for the rights of workers, for fundamental human rights and for the solidarity associated with the traditional forms of the social State. Systems of social security can lose the capacity to carry out their task, both in emerging countries and in those that were among the earliest to develop, as well as in poor countries. Here budgetary policies, with cuts in social spending often made under pressure from international financial institutions, can leave citizens powerless in the face of old and new risks; such powerlessness is increased by the lack of effective protection on the part of workers' associations. Through the combination of social and economic change, trade union organizations experience greater difficulty in carrying out their task of representing the interests of workers, partly because Governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labour unions. Hence traditional networks of solidarity have more and more obstacles to overcome. The repeated calls issued within the Church's social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum, for the promotion of workers' associations that can defend their rights must therefore be honoured today even more than in the past, as a prompt and far-sighted response to the urgent need for new forms of cooperation at the international level, as well as the local level.
“The mobility of labour, associated with a climate of deregulation, is an important phenomenon with certain positive aspects, because it can stimulate wealth production and cultural exchange. Nevertheless, uncertainty over working conditions caused by mobility and deregulation, when it becomes endemic, tends to create new forms of psychological instability, giving rise to difficulty in forging coherent life-plans, including that of marriage. This leads to situations of human decline, to say nothing of the waste of social resources. In comparison with the casualties of industrial society in the past, unemployment today provokes new forms of economic marginalization, and the current crisis can only make this situation worse. Being out of work or dependent on public or private assistance for a prolonged period undermines the freedom and creativity of the person and his family and social relationships, causing great psychological and spiritual suffering. I would like to remind everyone, especially governments engaged in boosting the world's economic and social assets, that the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his or her integrity: 'Man is the source, the focus and the aim of all economic and social life'.”
Benedict was very clear with what he denounces. Without a social cushion, what can come is the revolution. The cushion envisaged by Benedict is not social reforms, nor the preservation of rights nor jobs. He says openly that unemployment is here to stay. The problem is how we deal with it. Benedict makes no call for “more jobs” for “better wages” for “maintaining security and public health.” His appeal is to transform the church into something that can be useful to capitalism. His analysis is cold and sharp as a knife. The problem, as always, is that it clashes with the bureaucracy of the Vatican and the church's property, with its corporate responsibility, luxuries and profits. But even so, he makes mistakes in his own analysis, which is a prisoner of the need to defend capitalism.
Where we disagree?
1) With the “fatalistic” character of the current crisis. It is not born from nothing, but arises from the very existence of capitalism, which produces more than it can sell on the market. In other words, it is capitalism that produced the current crisis and is therefore responsible for it.
2) With the equally “fatalistic” character of the situation. Benedict does not propose – nor could he propose – that the policy of destruction of trade unions implemented by most governments is fought against. But he records the existence of such strategy with a clarity that analysts today do not want or cannot have.
In this situation, his warnings and appeals to the rulers could only fall into the void, as indeed they fell. None of them wants to acknowledge the corruption (which he denounced), let alone the need to defend human beings and their work. Rather, the “news” are spread that full employment is something that has never existed and will never exist.
But Benedict was right: Health care and pension systems are under attack and we need an international response to this. In other words, he proposes that the church return to its labour unionism, to resume an international perspective of this work and help workers to defend themselves. It is a declaration of war, a declaration of combat, which combined with its critique of Marxism, results in a coherent doctrine of construction and growth of the church, contrary to what his critics say, that he wanted a “smaller” church. The problem is that the bourgeoisie regards it as a dangerous path to follow in times of crisis (the Russian Revolution of 1905 began with an Orthodox priest, who apparently was even a Russian intelligence agent, calling a demonstration, the violent suppression of which ignited the revolution). Thus, Benedict was, in a certain way, “isolated”. But not isolated from his world and of his time. Isolated in his aims. He was a general without soldiers, sergeants, captains, colonels. He lost them during the time it took him to develop his programme, which takes a more developed character in his last encyclical. Rather, his general staff fled as the devil flees a cross, when the need to deal with these problems arose.
Poor pope. He could analyse properly – like no other bourgeois economist would – the social problem of hunger:
“Moreover, the elimination of world hunger has also, in the global era, become a requirement for safeguarding the peace and stability of the planet. Hunger is not so much dependent on lack of material things as on shortage of social resources, the most important of which are institutional. What is missing, in other words, is a network of economic institutions capable of guaranteeing regular access to sufficient food and water for nutritional needs, and also capable of addressing the primary needs and necessities ensuing from genuine food crises, whether due to natural causes or political irresponsibility, nationally and internationally. The problem of food insecurity needs to be addressed within a long-term perspective, eliminating the structural causes that give rise to it and promoting the agricultural development of poorer countries. This can be done by investing in rural infrastructures, irrigation systems, transport, organization of markets, and in the development and dissemination of agricultural technology that can make the best use of the human, natural and socio-economic resources that are more readily available at the local level, while guaranteeing their sustainability over the long term as well. All this needs to be accomplished with the involvement of local communities in choices and decisions that affect the use of agricultural land. In this perspective, it could be useful to consider the new possibilities that are opening up through proper use of traditional as well as innovative farming techniques, always assuming that these have been judged, after sufficient testing, to be appropriate, respectful of the environment and attentive to the needs of the most deprived peoples. At the same time, the question of equitable agrarian reform in developing countries should not be ignored. The right to food, like the right to water, has an important place within the pursuit of other rights, beginning with the fundamental right to life. It is therefore necessary to cultivate a public conscience that considers food and access to water as universal rights of all human beings, without distinction or discrimination.”
However, trapped by his own conceptions, the defence of capitalism and social system, he could find no other way to accomplish this than by appealing to the good will – increasingly scarce – of the rich and the rulers:
“It is important, moreover, to emphasize that solidarity with poor countries in the process of development can point towards a solution of the current global crisis, as politicians and directors of international institutions have begun to sense in recent times. Through support for economically poor countries by means of financial plans inspired by solidarity — so that these countries can take steps to satisfy their own citizens' demand for consumer goods and for development — not only can true economic growth be generated, but a contribution can be made towards sustaining the productive capacities of rich countries that risk being compromised by the crisis.”
Yes, but who will do it today? Not capitalism, which has always prevented and prevents land reform and never was “in solidarity” with the poor. The solution, social revolution, is the very devil the Pope wants to repel. Hanging in the void, Benedict finally had to resign.
Benedict goes further. He shows where the path of current “solutions” to the crisis lead and alerts the bourgeoisie of these problems:
“Through the systemic increase of social inequality, both within a single country and between the populations of different countries (i.e. the massive increase in relative poverty), not only does social cohesion suffer, thereby placing democracy at risk, but so too does the economy, through the progressive erosion of 'social capital': the network of relationships of trust, dependability, and respect for rules, all of which are indispensable for any form of civil coexistence.”
The problem is that Benedict clearly continues as an advocate of the capitalist market, as he explains:
“35. In a climate of mutual trust, the market is the economic institution that permits encounter between persons, inasmuch as they are economic subjects who make use of contracts to regulate their relations as they exchange goods and services of equivalent value between them, in order to satisfy their needs and desires. The market is subject to the principles of so-called commutative justice, which regulates the relations of giving and receiving between parties to a transaction. But the social doctrine of the Church has unceasingly highlighted the importance of distributive justice and social justice for the market economy, not only because it belongs within a broader social and political context, but also because of the wider network of relations within which it operates. In fact, if the market is governed solely by the principle of the equivalence in value of exchanged goods, it cannot produce the social cohesion that it requires in order to function well. Without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust, the market cannot completely fulfil its proper economic function. And today it is this trust which has ceased to exist, and the loss of trust is a grave loss.”
Marx explained in Capital (Volume I) that the market has a serious “downside”. In it, the worker can only sell his labour power, at the price that the capitalist pays him (its exchange value, based on its cost of production). The capitalist uses the workers' labour power as he would any other commodity, but for a longer time than it costs him in wages, benefits, etc. (exchange value), and hence gets his profit. In a crisis, what the worker was able to gain in the past (higher wages, social rights such as retirement and health) is questioned, and the “principle of equivalence” is reduced to its rawest point: the capitalist will aim to force the worker to work for the simple value of his labour power and nothing more. The competition with the unemployed further reduces the exchange value of labour power, forcing workers to live in an increasingly stark state of misery. This is the real situation that leads to “loss of confidence.” No “moral or ethical” explanation, no “moral and ethical” struggle will change that. Benedict XVI preaches in a vacuum and he knows it.
Yes, at this point, the analysis of Benedict collapses in dealing with reality itself:
“Economy and finance, as instruments, can be used badly when those at the helm are motivated by purely selfish ends. Instruments that are good in themselves can thereby be transformed into harmful ones. But it is man's darkened reason that produces these consequences, not the instrument per se. Therefore it is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals, their moral conscience and their personal and social responsibility.”
Wherein lies Benedict's mistake? By believing that the market can be managed for good or evil, when the market's logic is simple: profit. And if someone starts to run a business otherwise, to pursue the general “good”, it simply does not generate profits and is smashed by the market. It will fail. To pretend to give a social or moral character to the market is to ignore what it is. So, Benedict is caught up in his own trap and he falls when confronted with social reality, whereby the church should be there to comfort the poor, but not to require personal and social responsibility.
Benedict knows that this is not the only problem. So called “new ideas” flourish in society, particularly in times of crisis. The media propagates inventors, charlatans and profiteers of all kinds which pop up. “Social entrepreneurship”, “sustainability” become fashionable again. Cooperatives of workers are presented again as “production cooperatives” as opposed to capitalist companies. Benedict tries to make sense of it all:
“What is needed, therefore, is a market that permits the free operation, in conditions of equal opportunity, of enterprises in pursuit of different institutional ends. Alongside profit-oriented private enterprise and the various types of public enterprise, there must be room for commercial entities based on mutualist principles and pursuing social ends to take root and express themselves. It is from their reciprocal encounter in the marketplace that one may expect hybrid forms of commercial behaviour to emerge, and hence an attentiveness to ways of civilizing the economy. Charity in truth, in this case, requires that shape and structure be given to those types of economic initiative which, without rejecting profit, aim at a higher goal than the mere logic of the exchange of equivalents, of profit as an end in itself.”
In Brazil, during the crisis of 2008, and just before it, hundreds of factories were closed. Some of them gathered around the occupied factories movement, of which Cipla was the largest, and proposed the nationalization as a solution. The Lula government proposed the opposite, for them to be turned into cooperatives. Most of those which have taken this path eventually failed, they did not (and could not) “fit the market.” Others collapsed because of internal conflicts and disputes over who was the boss in the factory. Cipla was invaded by the police to “teach” the workers respect for Capital. Yes, Benedict sees this with a world outlook and proposes that this kind of thing, “social enterprise”, the “worker cooperatives” prosper. He's selling illusion. But he cannot pay or afford it.
We could continue the analysis of this encyclical, but the work would take us away from the central issue – the reasons for the resignation of the Pope.
What we wanted, and we hope we have been able to show is that there is a problem behind the resignation that transcends the simple moral crisis or disputes within the apparatus. Benedict had a programme, a programme that clashed with the inactivity, inertia, corruption and luxury of the present bureaucracy of the church, a situation created by the position and role of the church, which owns banks, businesses, and real estate both urban and rural. It is a great owner; rather than just defending the bourgeois system, the church itself holds capital.
He bet on this program and was defeated while fighting for it. Could Benedict have continued? We cannot answer this question. We can only speculate about it. What we can answer clearly is that Benedict resigned because his proposal to transform the church into an instrument of social struggle, with a program to combat communism and a programme of active social charity was defeated. We will see in the times to come what the next steps of the church will be.
1. The three encyclicals can be found here, in several languages: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/index_en.htm
2. For a better understanding on the subject we recommend reading Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed.
3. See http://www.marxist.com/flood-disaster-pakistan-human-catastrophe-system-decay.htm
4. A would-be Marxist, Isaac Deutscher, in writing a biography of Trotsky called him a Prophet. This is a deception and a perversion of Marxism, which bases its analysis on concrete scientific facts and not on “visions”.